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Beach police chief weighs policy on immigration checks
 

By JON FRANK, The Virginian-Pilot
April 22, 2007

VIRGINIA BEACH - Police Chief Jake Jacocks Jr. has been meeting with citizen groups this month to decide whether to change the policy that forbids Beach police officers from asking the immigration status of suspects arrested on misdemeanor charges.

The reassessment is in response to media attention and public outrage following the deaths March 30 of two teenage girls in a wreck. A man who admitted he is an illegal immigrant is accused of causing the wreck.

Next week, Jacocks will meet with representatives of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to discuss the ability of federal authorities to respond to local law enforcement requests for assistance.

The goal of the meetings is to determine whether "our official policy is where it should be in our community," Jacocks said Friday.

He also said there is "isolated" sentiment in the community to allow police to ask about the immigration status of those charged with misdemeanor crimes, but he is "leaning toward not making a change" in the policy.

The policy was developed to encourage people who may be in the country illegally to report crimes to police and to cooperate with police in solving crimes.

It prohibits police from asking about immigration status except in felony arrests, terrorism investigations, gang activity crimes and crimes involving human smuggling.

Jacocks crafted the policy himself, implementing it unofficially in 2004 and officially in 2005. It is similar to policies in other large U.S. cities, he said.

Tessa Tranchant, 16, and Alison Kunhardt, 17, were killed March 30 when their vehicle was rammed from behind by a car being driven at a high speed. Police believe that alcohol was a factor in the crash.

In the days following the accident, news accounts revealed that the man charged in the case, 22-year-old Alfredo Ramos, was in the country illegally and had three prior alcohol-related convictions but had never been considered for deportation.

One of those convictions - for public drunkenness - was in Virginia Beach. The others - including a DUI - were in Chesapeake.

The federal immigration agency, ICE, does not respond to misdemeanor crimes involving illegal immigrants, Jacocks said.

Beach police notified ICE following the wreck.

Ramos is awaiting trial on a charge of aggravated involuntary manslaughter. He could be sentenced to 40 years in prison if convicted.

So far, Jacocks has met with the Council of Civic Organizations and the advisory committee representing the city's 3rd precinct. He also said he has met with several members of the local Hispanic community.

Jacocks also has talked with U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake and representatives of Sen. Jim Webb about the immigration issue.

Although he expects the policy to remain unchanged after the process is completed, Jacocks said it is necessary because "I am trying to do due diligence" before arriving at a final determination.

  • Reach Jon Frank at (757) 222-5122 or jon.frank@pilotonline.com.